Monday, April 06, 2009

GreenBaggins on Theonomy - A Response

Lane Keister at GreenBaggins has a post in which he argues that "Theonomy is Biblically-Theologically Wrong" (link). I can summarize it thus: "redemptive-historical theology removes the O.T. civil laws while natural law replaces them."

1) Limited Agreement on the Church-State Distinction

I agree that the church and state are not one and the same thing in the New Testament.

a) However, I should note that Mr. Keister (because of his Redemptive-Historical framework) has failed to notice that church and state were not one and the same thing in the Old Testament. A redemptive-historical approach is so focused on the earthly ministry of Christ that it tends to lose sight of the original context of Old Testament passages. While there are redemptive-historical themes and a significant amount of typology in Scripture, we must never permit these themes to prevent us from understanding the literal sense of Scripture.

b) Additionally, I should note that Mr. Keister has failed to notice that even in the New Testament the civil government (whether that be king, governor, or whatever) is considered a "minister of God" (just as in the Old Testament, see Exodus 24:13 and Romans 13:4). In fairness, Mr. Keister does mention Romans 13 (and even mentions that the magistrate is ordained by God), but argues that there is nothing in Romans 13 that cannot be argued on the basis of natural law, which brings us to the second point of limited agreement.

2) Limited Agreement on the Natural Law

I agree that God has provided information about himself through the created order and especially through the conscience, which we can refer to as "Natural Law" and that we must not go contrary to Natural Law any more than to any other divine revelation.

a) However, Mr. Keister overlooks that the Natural Law is necessarily universally applicable. That is to say, God's revelation of himself through Nature and Conscience was also applicable to Old Testament Israel.

b) Additionally, Mr. Keister overlooks that the Natural Law tends not to be propositional. Thus, for example, Natural Law can tell us that crime must be punished, but it may not be able to tell us whether theft should be a capital offense. This actually brings us to a point of disagreement with Mr. Keister.

3) Mr. Keister's Arguments Against Capital Punishment for Violation of Second-Table Commandments are Unsupported and Unsupportable Either from Scripture or Natural Law

Mr. Keister states:
However, it is not the civil magistrate’s job to execute a boy for cursing his parents (as was true in the Old Testament civil laws). It is the church’s job to instruct and to exercise church discipline.
There are two problems with this claim:

a) Mr. Keister is arguing for church discipline to handle the affairs of civil government. Although he doubtless does not intend to do so, Mr. Keister is violating the two-kingdoms principle that civil affairs are within the authority of the civil magistrate: attempting to take this away from the civil magistrate and give it to the church. However, the church is not charged with punishing crime: that is not within its sphere of authority.

b) The issue of insubordination of children to parents is an issue of civil law, as is recognized by the Old Testament and in the Natural Law. The Old Testament explicitly ordains the death penalty for cursers of parents and places it, contextually in this list:

i) Regulation of Slavery (Exodus 21:1-11);
ii) Capital Punishment for Premeditated Murder and Relief for Accidental Homicide (Exodus 21:12-14);
iii) Capital Punishment for Battery of Parents (Exodus 21:15);
iv) Capital Punishment for Kidnap (Exodus 21:16);
v) Capital Punishment for Cursing of Parents (Exodus 21:17);
vi) Restitution for Battery (Exodus 21:18-19);
vii) Application of (ii) and (vi) in the case of slaves (Exodus 21:20-21);
viii) Punishment for Battery of Pregnant Woman (Exodus 21:22-25);
ix) Further application of (vi) in the case of slaves (Exodus 21:26-27);
x) Punishment of Homicide by Chattels (Exodus 21:28-32);
xi) Punishment for Damage to Chattels by Pit-digging (Exodus 21:33-34); and
xii) Punishment for Damage of Chattels on Chattels (Exodus 21:35-46).

Within that context it should be fairly clear that cursing one's parents is part of the civil code of Israel, and it is the responsibility of the civil magistrate (the "judges" mentioned, for example, in Exodus 21:6) to address these issues. It is not a matter governed through the church (i.e. through the priests) and it is not a matter connected with the ceremonial law or with an issue unique to the nation of Israel (as, for example, the land of Canaan).

c) It is worth noting that, in this instance, Mr. Keister has gone beyond even many fairly radical non-theonomists in suggesting that a second table offense should not be governed by the civil government.

d) Mr. Keister does not provide any real argument from the Natural Law in support of his contention that the Natural Law does not suggest such a penalty. On the contrary, Natural Law teaches that men must obey their parents, that parents deserve a special dignity, and that the greater the dignity of the offended party the worse the punishment should be on the offender. In short, while someone might argue that the specific punishment of death for cursers of parents cannot be gleaned from the Natural Law (given the inspecific nature of Natural Law), nevertheless the Old Testament civil law provides an example well within the bounds of Natural Law and fully consistent with it and certainly Mr. Keister's opinion that death penalty is inappropriate cannot be supported by natural law, even if the natural law does not clearly require such a penalty.

4) Mr. Keister's Situation-Specific Dismissal Is Too Unspecific

Mr. Keister asserted: "Now, the theonomist will probably reply that the civil law of Old Testament Israel is of a piece with and is the outworking of the moral law given in the Ten Commandments. True, it is. But it is an outworking of the Ten Commandments for a particular place and people." (emphasis in original)

I certainly agree that it was for a particular place and people. That's a very true statement, and yet it does not follow that therefore the civil law of Israel would not be a good law for other places or peoples. There's nothing in the Bible or in the Natural Law to suggest that the hearts of post-Pentecost men are less hard than the hearts of the Jews from the time of Moses to the time of Pentecost (or till A.D. 70 or whenever it is alleged that the civil law of Israel ceased to have effect by those who reject what they refer to as "theonomy"). Furthermore, the Bible does tell us that the civil laws of Israel were given good laws:

Nehemiah 9:13 Thou camest down also upon mount Sinai, and spakest with them from heaven, and gavest them right judgments, and true laws, good statutes and commandments:

In fact, they are set forth in Scripture as the paragon of all laws for governing nations:

Deuteronomy 4:8 And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?

In principle, I agree that where the judgments are specific to Israel they are naturally not applicable to us - but judgments like those on honoring one's father and mother are not specific to Israel.

5) Mr. Keister Overstates His Point in Abandoning Old Testament Principles

Mr. Keister stated:
In other words, Jesus Christ is the apex of the trajectory of Old Testament Israel, and the church is in Christ. Therefore, it does not make sense to say that modern-day governments should run themselves according to principles that were given to Old Testament Israel as Old Testament Israel.
Surely, Mr. Keister is right that Jesus Christ is the focal point of the Bible. It does not follow, however, that the good laws given to Old Testament Israel are not based on principles that must be followed by any government that wishes to follow the law of God.

Mr. Keister has plainly overstated his point here, since Mr. Keister acknowledges the role of Natural Law. Nevertheless, since God cannot be inconsistent with Himself, and since the Natural Law is a Creation ordinance (at the latest, upon the Fall and the obtaining of the knowledge of good and evil), therefore the "principles" of the civil law of Israel must be the same principles found in the Natural Law (otherwise the civil law of Israel would not be good laws).

6) Mr. Keister's Redemptive-Historical Framework Causes Him to Conflate Categories

We see a conflation of categories in Mr. Keister's comment:
And yet the principles in the New Testament for church government say nothing of the sword. Instead, the weapons are spiritual, for we fight not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual enemies. Ephesians 6, by the way, is one reason why I believe the application of Old Testament Israel’s holy wars draws a straight line to spiritual warfare today in the church.
(emphasis in original, link omitted)

Mr. Keister is right in one way: the church (either of the Old or New Testament) was not entrusted with the sword. That's the duty of the civil magistrate - the king, governor, judges, etc. depending on the applicable form of government. On the other hand, in both the Old and New Testament the civil magistrate does bear the power of the sword (See Romans 13:4).

The roles and duties of the church and the state are different, just as the roles and duties of the parents and the state are different and the roles and duties of the parents and the church are different (although there are various overlaps at pints).

This leads me to the final point (prior to the conclusion).

7) Mr. Keister's Conflation Actually Undermines the Proper Two(or Five) Kingdoms Distinctives

Elsewhere I've discussed how there are not just two, but actually five, kingdoms (link). Each has its own proper sphere of authority, and the existence of one sphere of authority does not negate or invalidate the other spheres. Mr. Keister's emphasis on the duties of the church with respect to sin (i.e. church discipline) seem to suggest that because the church has some responsibilities with respect to sin "X" that therefore the civil government does not also, and in parallel, have responsibilities.

Specifically (so the argument seems to go), because the church is called on to excommunicate those who curse their parents, the civil government has no responsibility to put such villains to death. This flawed reasoning would seem to destroy the proper multiple kingdoms distinctives and cause the church to usurp the roles of the other spheres, especially the civil sphere.

Let me give some illustrative counter-examples.

Example 1: Man commits adultery, two witnesses observe this, and the offended wife brings the matter before the judges.

Reaction by State: It would be appropriate for the state to punish this man for his crime. I see no reason (notwithstanding the Pericope Adulterae) why that punishment must not be death.

Reaction by Church: Discipline, up to and perhaps including excommunication (upon following the appropriate protocols).

Reaction by the Adulterer's Father: Condemnation of his son's misdeed, and exhortation to repentance.

Reaction by the Adulterer's Spouse: In this case, the offense has destroyed this particular sphere of authority. Thus, the woman is not required to "submit" to the adultery, although she ought to seek to forgive this man who has sinned against her.

Reaction by the Adulterer's Employer: Condemnation of his employee's misdeed, and exhortation to repentance.

Example 2: Man (out of hate) kills someone who works for him, two witnesses observe, and the family of the deceased brings it before the judges.

Reaction by State: Death for the murderer.

Reaction by the Church: Discipline, up to and perhaps including excommunication (upon following the appropriate protocols).

Reaction by the Murderer's Father: Condemnation of his son's misdeed, and exhortation to Repentance.

Reaction by the Murderer's Spouse (if applicable): Exhortation to Repentance.

Reaction by the Murderer's Employees: Exhortation to repentance.

We could go on and on with other examples. The point of these examples would simply be to show that each sphere of authority generally can react to any given sin. That reaction may be different in one sphere of authority or another. Thus, the fact that the state is going to execute the death penalty for murder does not preclude the church from acting to discipline the man, perhaps even excommunicating him if the circumstances warrant. Likewise, a father need not remain silent when his son does something wrong, but can condemn him for his sin and exhort him to repentance.

In some spheres, the ability to exhort to repentance may be limited: for example, one may be able to exhort one's employer or husband to a godly life of repentance largely through example. Nevertheless, each violation of God's law should provoke the appropriate reaction from each of the sphere's of authority.


Accordingly, I must respectfully disagree with Mr. Keister's contention regarding theonomy (in general - as opposed to a specific flavor of theonomy) being Biblically and/or Theologically Wrong. I must, of course, qualify that disagreement. If theonomy causes one to lose sight of the preeminent role of Jesus in the Bible, then theonomy (in that instance) is wrong. If one is so focused on the duties of the civil magistrate that one commits the opposite error from that identified above, and places all the responsibility for reacting to sin in the hands of the state, then that species of theonomy is wrong.

But a true, Biblical theonomy embraces the multiple (two, five, or however many) kingdoms and the ministers of each of those kingdoms: the father has his duties, as does the parent, the spouse, the employer/employee, the elder/deacon/layman, and the king/subject. One does not trump the other, and one does not usurp or supplant the other. The King must be honored, so must the master, the father, the husband, and the elder. Each is to be honored and obeyed and each has certain responsibilities. God has given these spheres of authority, and each should be governed according to the word and law of God, as revealed both in Nature and Conscience but also in Scripture.



Anonymous said...

I might put things slightly different and qualify matters slightly differently but on the whole I find this perfectly acceptable. I think there are people that are trying to drive wedges between people that are essentially like-minded.

I am working on my own response to Lane's that tries to use a R-H approach to why making Jesus completely discontinuous from the Old Testament so that we end up with a Jesus without the Old Testament is misguided.

Thanks for your work here,

Bret L. McAtee

Anonymous said...

Well, TF, what a fine time to open up a deep subject! grrrrrr

As I read along, one thing early on you wrote in response I would "highlight":

"....While there are redemptive-historical themes and a significant amount of typology in Scripture, we must never permit these themes to prevent us from understanding the literal sense of Scripture...."


Here is why, let the thinker think:

Gen 4:13 Cain said to the LORD, "My punishment is greater than I can bear.
Gen 4:14 Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me."
Gen 4:15 Then the LORD said to him, "Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold." And the LORD put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him.

Here we see no attempts by God to have Cain "suffer" the "consequence" of "murder". One easily could argue for the abolition of Capital Punishment as a civil code for murder crimes men commit.

Here too:

Gen 9:26 He also said, "Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant.

How does one write up a governing "civil code" with this "theonomy" of God? Here, God is making a distinction between men and their moral character. It is later on that God declares all unrighteous, none righteous, no not one!

And here, this one is my all time favorite distinction:

Gen 31:51 Then Laban said to Jacob, "See this heap and the pillar, which I have set between you and me.
Gen 31:52 This heap is a witness, and the pillar is a witness, that I will not pass over this heap to you, and you will not pass over this heap and this pillar to me, to do harm.
Gen 31:53 The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us." So Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac,
Gen 31:54 and Jacob offered a sacrifice in the hill country and called his kinsmen to eat bread. They ate bread and spent the night in the hill country.
Gen 31:55 Early in the morning Laban arose and kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them. Then Laban departed and returned home.

Now we see God establishing a covenantal relationship between Laban and Jacob, who are "invoking" the God of Abraham and the God of "Nahor", and to this day it remains binding upon these two peoples.

Now, further you write:

"....Mr. Keister asserted: "Now, the theonomist will probably reply that the civil law of Old Testament Israel is of a piece with and is the outworking of the moral law given in the Ten Commandments. True, it is. But it is an outworking of the Ten Commandments for a particular place and people." (emphasis in original)...."

Here again is an Amen to that.

Clearly Mr. Keister has another agenda in mind, [it may not be bad or ungodly], by his overly loose dismissal of emphasis seems to me to be clear. Here, as these Words attest:

Exo 3:6 And he said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
Exo 3:7 Then the LORD said, "I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings,
Exo 3:8 and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.
Exo 3:9 And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them.

In those words God narrows His relationship with very specific intent to a very specific race within a broader context of His creation. It does not seem natural to me that, because of the "oppression" of the one Nation, Egypt, God delivers this specific group of people, the Jews of the Hebrew Abram, whose blood line can be traced back to the God of Nahor and Shem, "historically", delivering them from them, the Egyptians and then send them into a world of other nations living securely, [a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.] to utterly destroy them. Why does God do that? He sends a bunch of obstinate, rebellious and disobedient people to destroy those who were living in the land that flows with milk and honey!

Shouldn't God, by virtue, bring utter destruction upon Egypt? Isn't there something morally amiss here with the Theonomy of God? It naturally seems that way to me!

I have to say that the Ten Commandments are the written expression of the Virtuous Nature of God before this present creation, the heavens and earth, at all times during this temporal expression of God's Nature in the present creation, no matter how often His Nature is violated and why, by His "Elect" creatures and then after this creation is destroyed permanently. Thereafter the Theonomy of God is known in the New Heavens and New Earth wherein dwells His Righteousness by "relationship", the Creator with the new creature in Christ. There has always been a relationship available to humanity. The mercy of God is solely for His Elect.

Now, His Righteousness dwells in this life, to be sure. And the laws of nature do exist and are to be observed because of the relationship God has with His creation, to be sure. It seems that when one tries to end up with a solution to a civil realm problem, it has to be brought into specific context within the governing body of that realm.

For instance, just yesterday it was reported over the wires of a public punishment inflicted upon a 17 year old girl in a remote Taliban controlled area of Pakistan that was video taped and put on the internet. As the video of this girl's punishment became known to those "more civilized" in Pakistan, a flogging by a Taliban "leader", the civilized portions of Pakistani society rose up in protest against the punishment meeted out because of Shari Law, by demonstrating on the streets of Karachi and other cities. It hit the internet and a ground swell of emotion rose up worldwide in disgust that men still treat young girls this way.

What did the girl do? She went outside a particular and specific private environment into the public enviroment with her "Father-in-Law" and not her husband! For that violation, she was publicly flogged. It was video taped and if you watch it and hear her cries for help because of the flogging and her appeals for "mercy", you would sense what Jesus was up against when you read these verses of Scripture:

Mat 12:1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat.
Mat 12:2 But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, "Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath."
Mat 12:3 He said to them, "Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him:
Mat 12:4 how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?
Mat 12:5 Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless?
Mat 12:6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.
Mat 12:7 And if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless.
Mat 12:8 For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath."

Well, in conclusion, I am concurring with your assessment of Lane's narrow view and tend to agree with both cited quotations of yours above.

The Theonomy of God, well, seeing He is unchanging and eternal, it remains for Him to dish out the punishment due for violation of them.

It does seem to me God exercises a far broader application of mercy over sacrifice than I do, seeing I am more naturally suited to be of the sin of the Nicolaitans! grrrrr!!

Rhology said...

You are a theonomist, T-fan?
Are you postmil as well?

Me ignorant.

Turretinfan said...

I think that the postmil eschatology is right, but I'm not dogmatic about it - and I tend not to debate eschatologies with folks.

I use the term "theonomist" of myself because I do view the civil laws given to Israel as embodying a system of justice that is consonant with the moral principles of justice God has given. That's not what everyone thinks of when they think of theonomist, though, so I typically respond to the question you asked by asking: "What do you mean by "theonomist"?"


Aaron said...

I have to disagree I dontthink the state in any way has the right to enforce what amounts to a church disciplne issue. Also there is the quesation of how doesthis not devolve in to Erastianism? Then there is the fact that if the state has the right to punish peopleforadultury why not other "crimes" like heresy, blasphemy, or idolotry it's only logical that it goesthere eventually I feel but then again I am an Anabaptist so I come with my own presupistions. thewholeI dea of Theonomyis just repugnent tome it seems like an righ wing socal gospel if you ask me.

Turretinfan said...


That's the sort of thinking I was trying to address in my post by pointing out that more than one sphere of authority can be involved in a single event.

A proper theonomy does not permit the state to subvert church discipline or vice versa.

But, yes, I don't have a problem with the state punishing offenses that relate to the first table of the law (sabbath-breaking, blasphemy, witchcraft, etc.).


Aaron said...

Thanks I guess I can just agree to disagree thanks for being chartiable about it.